What factors increase the risk for addiction?

Although we know what happens to the brain when someone becomes addicted, we can’t predict how many times a person must use a drug before becoming addicted. A combination of factors related to your genes, environment, and your personal development increases the chance that taking drugs will lead to addiction. These include:

  • Home and family. Parents or older family members who use alcohol or drugs, or who are involved in criminal behavior, can increase a young person’s risk for developing a drug problem.
  • Peers and school. Friends and acquaintances who use drugs can sway young people to try drugs for the first time. Academic failure or poor social skills can also put a person at risk for drug use.
  • Early use. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, research shows that the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more likely they are to progress to more serious use. This may reflect the harmful effect that drugs can have on the developing brain. It also may be the result of early biological and social factors, such as genetics, mental illness, unstable family relationships, and exposure to physical or sexual abuse. Still, the fact remains that early drug use is a strong indicator of problems ahead—among them, substance use and addiction.
  • Method of use. Smoking a drug or injecting it into a vein increases its addictive potential. Both smoked and injected drugs enter the brain within seconds, producing a powerful rush of pleasure. However, this intense "high" can fade within a few minutes, and the person no longer feels good. Scientists believe that this low feeling drives people to repeat drug use in an attempt to recapture the high pleasurable state.